When Martin Odegaard signed his deal to become a Real Madrid player as a fresh-faced 16-year-old back in 2015, he had the world at his feet.
However, as time progressed, it was clear to see that it was all a bit too much, too young for the Norwegian. The limelight was constantly on him, with fans expecting him to settle in and deliver quickly in the first team.
Of course, then-boss Carlo Ancelotti famously later claimed that the signing of Odegaard was merely a PR stunt, which...isn't really ideal for any player, let alone someone of that age. Moving to another country so young is one thing, but the drama and media attention that came with Odegaard's move were further obstacles that he needed to overcome.
Despite his obvious talent, however, Odegaard's future was said to lie elsewhere after a series of loan spells. But the reality was that these moves were just what he needed, taking him out of the firing line and allowing him to enjoy playing his best football again. His spells at SC Heerenveen and Vitesse weren't spectacular, but they helped lay the foundations for Odegaard to grow as a footballer and as a human being.
It was his loan to Real Sociedad for the 2019/20 season which has really caught the eye. HIs four goals and six assists in the league last campaign helped guide Real Sociedad to a sixth-placed finish.
But the statistics tell just a fraction of the story. The Norwegian was dictating matches with the play going through him. Constantly playing on the half turn, Odegaard would already know where the space is and where his teammates are. Indeed, his talent has always been clear for all to see, but his footballing intelligence and ability to pick the right option are just some of a number of attributes which have contributed to his development.
Real Madrid agreed to extend Odegaard's loan with Sociedad by a further year, but AS have now reported that Los Blancos will recall him early at the request of Zinedine Zidane. The 21-year-old was actually keen to stay with La Real for another season, but Zidane has convinced the midfielder that he will be part of his first team plans next campaign. Odegaard has decided to return following their conversation.
While Sociedad will, of course, be gutted to lose such a vital player, it is a move that comes at the perfect time for both player and parent club.
Odegaard is now in a position where he has built up his mental strength and is prepared for any challenges that lie ahead at the Bernabeu. But equally, he would bring some much-needed creativity and vision to an ageing Madrid midfield. Rather than turning to the transfer market, Los Blancos have a player who is ready to come in and act as the link between the midfield and attack - which Real have been desperately crying out for.
Real may well have won La Liga in 2019/20, but their success was primarily down to their resolute defensive displays and the goalscoring exploits of Karim Benzema. However, as could be seen recently in the second leg of their last 16 Champions League tussle with Manchester City, there is a distinct lack of imagination in the middle of the park. Equally, there is a disconnect between the midfield and the front three.
The likes of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro are all outstanding footballers, but their styles of play often leave Benzema isolated and only able to influence matches in flashes. Indeed, it speaks volumes about Madrid's attack that Benzema - Real's top scorer in 2019/20 - registered the most assists of any player at the club, grabbing eight.
More broadly, Odegaard created 62 chances in La Liga in 2019/20 - the sixth-highest amount of any player. Indeed, not one Real Madrid player managed more than the Norwegian in this department, And the best thing? Odegaard only featured in 31 league games.
Zidane has looked to solve his creativity problem by bringing Isco into the lineup, the Spaniard starting out on the right before drifting in-field and looking to act as a link between the midfielders and Benzema. But this simply hasn't worked, with Isco struggling to influence matches.
Even though Benzema was excellent for Real in 2019/20, he is in desperate need of better service. But it isn't just him either, as the likes of Eden Hazard aren't receiving the ball out on the wing when making penetrating runs. And the reasoning for this is simple, the likes of Modric and Kroos aren't high enough up the field to be able to angle these passes.
But with Odegaard in the team, the front three will be able to pose much more of a threat due to his range of passing and ability to play eye-of-the-needle balls from midfield.
Zidane has claimed he is proud of his side after winning La Liga - and rightly so - but their flaws were brutally exposed against City. The game was there for the taking, but Los Blancos simply couldn't find a way to bring the attackers into the game. Indeed, the times they were most menacing was when Benzema dropped back and acted as the creator.
With James Rodriguez on his way out and with Kroos and Modric not getting any younger, midfield reinforcements are required. But there is simply no point splashing out on a new signing, considering what Odegaard would bring to this Real Madrid team.
Sure, he may not necessarily be playing 90 minutes every game, but he is exactly what they need. Zidane's 4-3-3 system means he may well be tasked with more responsibilities, but with Casemiro behind him, he will be allowed the freedom to push forward and do what he does best: create.
It's been a long road back to the Bernabeu for Odegaard, but the time is now right for him to return and prove his worth.